The Legacy of Richard Seaman Inspiring Others - Spirit of Speed

The Legacy of Richard Seaman Inspiring Others - Spirit of Speed

From Mercedes Benz

Richard Seaman (1913-1939) was a British Grand Prix racing driver for the Mercedes-Benz team from 1937 to 1939. Born in 1913, Seaman was inspired to be a racer when Whitney Straight won the 1931 Shelsley Walsh Speed Hill Climb near the Malvern Hills.

  • This fuelled his lifelong impulse in motor racing, but it was met with great resistance from his parents as they wanted him to be a Member of Parliament or a lawyer due to his Cambridge University schooling.
  • However, he didn’t want to do so since he wanted to live his ambition. He felt that he is excellent for being behind the wheel and so in 1934, he decided to become a racer by moving to Europe to start honing his skills to become a professional.
  • Early in his career, we can see Seaman completing many triumphs. He prevailed at the Voiturette race of the Swiss Grand Prix occasion at Bremgarten. He then succeeds it three times sequentially.
  • He later won other minor races for English Racing Automobiles, outstandingly at Brooklands and Donington Park usually in a non-competitive manner.
  • In 1935, Seaman won the junior category of the 1935 Coppa Acerbo.

By 1936, the young man was more focused on Grand Prix racing which began the start of his downfall. In 1937, he was eventually brought into the Mercedes-Benz faction by the team chief, Alfred Neubauer, after a race test at the Nürburgring as the Silver Arrows teams used to have at least one foreign driver.

Neubauer was impressed by the skills that Seaman displayed, but Seaman faced a dilemma. His mother did not wish for him to drive for the Mercedes-Benz team as they are funded directly by the German government which at that time was solely ruled by Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists.

He chooses to remain in the team due to the advantages that he gets with his automobile for it was better financed and well-built compared to other cars that he has driven. He found that this could be the opportunity for him to be one of the top drivers in the European Grand Prix championship.

  • However, his career with the German team came with a terrible start as he engaged in an accident with another driver, Ernst von Delius, and suffered fatal injuries. Ernst von Delius died at the age of 25 years old.
  • Seaman’s injuries prevented him from competing in two subsequent races in Italy, but he was able to participate in the Italian Grand Prix at Livorno in which he won fourth place. With his performance not being good, Neubauer demoted Seaman to reserve driver at the 1937 Swiss Grand Prix which upsets him.
  • He did, however, prove himself to be a capable driver for he was branded as one of the favorite drivers of Adolf Hitler when he becomes successful in the 1938 Grand Prix season and that was a monumental episode in racing history as Seaman won the AIACR European Championship race which has never been done by an Englishman since Henry Segrave in 1923.
  • His most successful race cars included the Mercedes-Benz W196, the Mercedes-Benz W25, and the Mercedes-Benz S280.
  • After this win, the Mercedes team retained Seaman as a reserve driver despite proving his capabilities. At this time, his relationship with his mother continued to worsen for his mother didn’t want him to be a foreign driver for the Nazi team.
  • This has caused his legacy to be tarnished by the association with Nazism as he had met Hitler at the 1939 Berlin Motor Show and subsequently being seen giving the Hitler Salute in one of his winnings.
  • This was made worst as it is revealed later that his wealth comes from Hitler and the Nazi party which goes against the intentions of his family. However, in recent years, many have taken the belief that Seaman simply drove for anyone or any team with the best, fastest cars and does not have any political leanings. 

Sadly, his career would come to an end in the 1939 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. It was a rainy day and Seaman was driving fast. He had a 28 second lead going into lap 22.

From Mercedes Benz

The track was unfavorably wet and so, Seaman and his car crashed into a tree during the twenty-second lap. The impact resulted in the car catching fire from a punctured fuel tank. Seaman was still inside and unable to break free from the burning coffin that was once his automobile. He became unconscious as the fire raged and he died a few hours later because of his burns, at just 26 years of age.

Seaman blamed himself for the disaster saying: “I was going too fast for the conditions – it was entirely my fault. I am sorry."

Richard Seaman was buried at Putney Vale Cemetery in London and over the years, Mercedes-Benz still tends to his grave today as a mark of respect to their former racer.

Racing historian and Seaman biographer Chris Nixon believed that the son "ran roughshod over his parents".

Author and racing historian Doug Nye, who has also written about Seaman, says that he possessed, "a degree of selfishness, self-interest and self-obsession".

The deceased later served as an inspiration for future Mercedes drivers Stirling Moss and Lewis Hamilton. In 1957, Tony Brooks achieved Seaman's ambition of winning a Grand Prix in a British automobile.

Seaman won a total of 13 events in his career, at a time when far fewer Motorsport events were held, and in his day was one of the most famous British sportsmen of the 1930s.

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Author: M.A Amru
Writer of First under heaven & A Song For Zenith
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